Bringing Proust's Imaginary Music to Life

Friday 5 May saw the culminating event of an exciting collaboration between the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and the Faculty of Music in Oxford. The project, generously supported by the John Fell OUP Research Fund, has been investigating the descriptions of the imaginary sonata for piano and violin of the fictional composer Vinteuil from Marcel Proust’s famous long novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).

Our questions were: how can music be captured in words and what happens when this music is not real but fictional, existing only on the page? And can these words in turn act as the inspiration for new music? Passages relating to the sonata were extracted and newly translated into English by a team of talented undergraduate students in French. These passages were then given to two undergraduate students in Music, who were commissioned to write musical responses to these passages.

This creative, interdisciplinary project, led by Dr Jennifer Rushworth (Junior Research Fellow at St John’s College, Oxford), culminated in a performance of the magnificent new works by Alice Buhaenko and Adam Turner (both at Worcester College, Oxford) alongside dramatic readings from the new translations, in the gorgeous setting of the Holywell Music Room. For more information about the project and the people involved, and to read the passages in French and English, please go to the project website: (Recordings of the newly commissioned music will also appear here in due course.)

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